Contentment. The Apostle Paul learned it (Phil 4:11). Moses practiced it (Ex 2:21). The promise of godliness with it is a great advantage (1 Tim 6:6). Contentment is more than an elusive, abstract idea. One descriptive scripture that speaks to the value of contentment comes from Job 20:20: “Because he knew no contentment in his belly, he will not let anything in which he delights escape him” (ESV). The CSB translation is helpful presenting, “Because his appetite is never satisfied.” The description from Job is of one who chases after every shiny trinket, bauble, and doodad that catches their eye. The one who lives discontentedly will find water, but always be thirsty. Eat, but never be satisfied. Contentment is a spiritual discipline necessary for a thriving life and ministry. How does a pastor, how does a Christian develop godliness with contentment?
First, define what contentment is and what it is not.
Searching a dictionary, and asking my smart speaker, I discovered that contentment is a noun defined as “feelings of happiness in one’s situation in life.” Defining contentment was helpful but knowing its antonym, discontentment, is even more beneficial. Discontentment can be defined as a noun, a verb or even an adjective. As a noun discontent, “describes a restless desire or craving for something one does not have.” As a verb discontent is to “make dissatisfied, displeased.” As an adjective discontent means showing or experiencing dissatisfaction, a restless longing, a longing for something better.
Anxiety does not create contentment. Nor is the contented person restless. Contentment is not grown by what one does or does not have. Contentment is knowing, by faith, that for those who seek the Lord this situation is precisely where and what He has for you. Learning contentment asks of the Lord, who sets the times and boundaries of men, “what do You have for me, even in this?”
Second, learn contentment by setting or fixing your minds.
In the Philippian letter Paul writes, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy—dwell on these things (Phil 4:8). Just a few verses later Paul speaks to how he has learned contentment. Perhaps Paul’s learned state of contentment is related to the command he delivers to the church of what to dwell on.
Studies have shown that our fifty-percent of our happiness—a symptom of contentment—is based on our genetics. You may have the tendency of seeing the world a little darker just like your uncle did. Studies also show that ten-percent of your happiness is based on your life circumstances. Meaning you will not be an intrinsically happier person living at the beach than you will in northern Minnesota. These studies also reveal that that forty-percent of your happiness is based on something else. That something else are your daily choices. The disciplines you impose or ignore shape the life God desires for you. Contentment can be grown by what you think about.
Third, grow contentment with gracious speech.
Colossians 4:6 reminds us that our speech is to be seasoned with salt. How you speak to and about people is critical for the discipline of contentment. If you are quick to criticize and have difficulty speaking graciously with others, the seeds of discontentment will flourish. However, you will be practicing contentment by letting all your speech be gracious. A good experiment would be to set one day and commit to only speaking well and graciously of others in person and on social media.
Finally, set high goals but find your identity in Christ.
One of the reasons Paul stressed his learned contentment is that he was celebrating the concern and care the Philippian church had for him. The catch is he was celebrating from prison. While he was confined the walls around him did not imprison his identity. His identity was fixed in Christ, not his circumstances. Dream to do big things for God but refuse to wed who you are with what does or does not get accomplished.
Much like prayer, scripture reading, giving, worship, and others faith building practices, contentment is a spiritual discipline that must be learned, practiced, and repeated. Life and ministry absent of contentment will long for something, somewhere, and perhaps even someone other than what is in the present circumstances. Learning and practicing contentment is critical for a thriving life and ministry. It’s a lesson this pastor regularly repeats.
 David Murray, The Happy Christian: Ten Ways to be a Joyful Believer in a Gloomy World, (Nashville: Nelson Books, 2015), 2.